South Aiken’s football team almost scaled the mountaintop last season.
Now that the Thoroughbreds have seen what the view looks like near the summit, nothing less will do.
To a man, the team’s senior leaders say that expectations are to win a state championship.
That might have sounded funny a year ago, given South Aiken’s lack of success on the gridiron. But the Thoroughbreds gave the Palmetto State notice with a 12-2 season that saw them reach the Class AAAA semifinals.
Along the way, South Aiken won the most games in school history and rattled off three impressive playoff wins at its home field, the Stomping Grounds. Against perennial power South Pointe, the Thoroughbreds took the eventual state champions to double overtime before finally losing.
“We accomplished all of our goals last year except for one,” South Aiken coach Chris Hamilton said. “People when I first got to South Aiken, I think they thought I was crazy. The goals were to win opener, win county, win region, win state.
“I said that’s going to be our goals as long as we’re here. I don’t think anyone thought that could happen at South Aiken, but the kids always believed and my coaching staff always believed.”
The Thoroughbreds lost speedy playmakers Tancey Richardson and Harold Hilton, along with hard-hitting Colby Campbell, to graduation. But they still return plenty of talent, led by running back Chris Roberts and quarterback Cody Boynton on offense and Reid Bolen and Jamontae Martin on defense.
“I expect to win state, I really do,” Bolen said. “We all know each other, we’ve played together for 10 years. We understand how we have to work together. I feel like we’re determined.”
Boynton agreed, saying this group could threaten the mark for points scored set last year.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be outstanding, and on offense I think we’re going to be just as good as we were last year,” he said.
Martin said he expected to win it all.
“That’s always been the goal,” he said. “That’s the only thing we’re striving for.”
With so much success, Hamilton knows the Thoroughbreds are now a target. He also knows they have to avoid a letdown.
“I guess I’m worried about that a little bit,” he said. “We’ve talked about that a lot. Things don’t just happen because you show up. It’s no different than last year. We have to work.”
Even with the loss of gifted seniors, Hamilton has maintained that this year’s squad could be even better.
Deshun Kitchings heads the receiving corps and will return kicks, and Marin Sanders is back to handle kicking duties. The offensive line was also hit hard by graduation, but Hamilton said he is seeing progress.
On defense, DJ Parker, Kavis Swedenburg, Garrett Paschal and Tyler Laird will join Bolen and Martin on a senior-laden unit.
Roberts said the feeling the team had when it walked off the field at South Pointe was “devastating.”
“But Coach Hamilton told us we’d be back for more,” he said.
It’s that desire that’s driving this team, Hamilton said.
“It’s not just go to state, we want to win state,” Hamilton said. “There’s a hunger about our team. They’ve been able to stay humble, but there’s a hunger and it shows in the way they work out and the way they do things. It’s a different way they work out, in the way they are in the weight room, and the way they practice. That’s good.”
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.